Book Review: Arcana Mundi; Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds.

Arcana Mundi; Magic and the Occult in the Greeek and Roman Worlds – A Collection of Ancient Texts Translated, Annotated, and Introduced by Georg Luck.

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This book is contains pieces from 130 ancient text ranging from the eight century BCE to fourth century CE. Georg Luck has arranged these text in to six categories: Magic, Miracles, Daemonology, Divination, Astrology, and Alchemy. He gives introductions to each category and explaining its importance in the ancient world. The texts he uses illuminate the migration and acceptance of ideologies from outside cultures like the Egypt and Persia.  Most of these text give first or secondhand accounts of the various subjects and how the impacted everyday life in Ancient Greece and Rome.

In his selection and presentation of these text Georg Luck tries to show how peoples attitudes toward magic evolved. The epilogue takes the reader in to the lingering legacy of ancient magic in the middle ages, particularly in the church. If he had an agenda in this book it was to illustrate where these church practices originate. He does so in a rather scholarly way that I feel doesn’t  bash pagan or Christians. He includes a very interesting Appendix article titled Psychoactive Substances in Religion and Magic that hypothesis that both the Old Testament and the Early Church used incense with psychoactive substances to enhance their religious experience.  There is also a glossary of Greek and Latin words that are relevant to the subject of ancient magic.

I think this book is a great research tool for anyone wanting to delve deeper in to the subject of magic learning where traditions started and how they were practiced.  This book is also great for anyone studying early Christian history along with ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian cultures. I enjoyed the read, personal I feel the older the source materials are the closer we are to understanding how our ancestors thought. Learning the evolution of  cultures helps us not only understand our past, it helps us see where humanity is possibly heading.


Book Review: Cicero On The Good Life

This book contains five of Marcus Tullius Cicero’s ( 106 – 43 B.C.E.) works. I have include available Wikipedia links on the works for the curious mind to explore further.

  1. Discussions at Tusculum
  2. On Duties
  3. Laelius: On Friendship
  4. On The Orator
  5. The Dream of Scripio

First off I want to say what an excellent job the the translator Michael Grant did in creating very informative introductions for each of Cicero’s works. He explains during which part of Cicero’s life each piece is written. He explains what point of history Cicero is referring to in his works. He includes information that gives details about who, what, and when Cicero is referencing other pieces of literature.

“The Discussions at Tusculum” is written as a conversation between Cicero and his friends. The Discussions are made up of five parts but this book only includes the last part. The conversation that takes place largely focused on debating what whether of a happy life is mostly derived from living virtuously or luck and favoritism of fate and the gods. They also discus the various aspects of virtues and what is “a good life”. I found it reminiscent of Plato’s characterization of Socrates.

“On Duties” to quote Michael Grant is “a manual which provided a system of applied ethics and, in the process, sought to justify Cicero’s own standards of behavior and his carer.” It is dedicated to Cicero’s son Marcus and sums up his view of how society had evolved and the direction he feels it should aim itself.

“Laelius: On Friendship” discusses the  importance of friendship, how to develop it and how it should ideally work.

“On The Orator” was my least favorite of the five works in this collection. Much like “The Discussions at Tusculum” it reads like a debate among friends about what is oration. They discuss why they feel it is a necessary skill and a noble occupation.

“The Dream of Scripio” was my favorite part of the book. It delves in to the subject of immortality and the afterlife. It is poetic in the way it describes how people are all made from the stars and connected to the universe. It also shows just how much the Romans Knew about geography and astrology. For me one of the real philosophical treats was the discussion of how the planets made music and connecting music to the sacred mystery of the universe. To be honest if I was to piece together my own bible from ancient literature “The Dream of Scripio” would be included along with Cicero’s other great work “On The Nature of The Gods”.



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Book Review: Tribes of Ancient Britain and Germany

Tribes of Ancient Britain and Germany by Publius Cornelius Tacitus (56 – 117 C.E.), Edited and Introduced by Bob Carruthers.  This book talks about the conquest of the Britain and Germany by the Romans from the Roman point of view. As such, it is a great resource for studying all three ancient cultures.

The first section of the book is only 31 pages long and is titled, “The Tribes of Ancient Britain” follows the career of  Tactitus’s father-in-law Cnaeus Julii Agricola. He served a military apprenticeship in Britain under the command of Sutonius Pallinus. The passage follows Agricola after his apprenticeship giving a brief glimpse into Roman politics. It also gives a glimpse of the world of the ancient people of Britannia. It includes the story of the British uprising lead by the warrior Queen Boudicea.  Agricola returned to Britain shortly after Boudicea’s uprising had been put down, and took up arms against the remaining British resistance.

The second section is titled “A Treatise On The Situation, Manners And Inhabitants Of Germany”. This section is 65 pages but it includes a lot of foot notes that sometimes take up most of a page by themselves. This reading would have been improved upon, if a map had been added by the editor. To me, the most interesting part of the section was towards the end, when the author is discussing the religion of the ancient Germans. This depiction is similar to the rituals of the Celts / Druids described by Julius Caesar in his book “Conquest of Gaul”, which is another great primary source if you are interested in the Romans or the Celts.  I feel this work went a little further than Caesar’s account because it compares the religious practices of several different tribes against each other. These differences include gods/goddesses, sacrifices and divination. The one common thread is the veneration of sacred groves of trees.

Overall I feel Agricola’s work a must read for anyone studying Ancient Roman, Celtic, or German culture. It is also a good read for individuals that enjoy military history.


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Book Review: Animals in Roman Life & Art

Image result for animals in roman life and art Animals in Roman Life and Art by J.M.C.Toynbee is fantastic source material for multiple historical study areas including: Art, veterinarian, agricultural, trade, and military. I personal found the use of animals in funerary and religious art particularly fascinating. The reader will also enjoy lots of colored and black & white photos of most of the ancient art the author refers to in the narrative. The author her self is a noteworthy archaeologist and art historian that to quote the back of the book, was a “leading British Scholar in Roman artistic studies in the mid-twentieth century and is  one of the most recognized authorities in the world.”

Break down chapters:

  1. General survey – discusses ancient sources and Roman attitude towards animals.
  2. Elephants
  3. Monkeys
  4. Felines
  5. Cat-Like Group (Ichneumons ans Hyenas)
  6. Bears
  7. Canine Animals
  8. Rhinoceroses
  9. Hippopotamuses
  10. Boars and Pigs
  11. Camels
  12. Giraffes
  13. Deer and Antelope
  14. Cattle
  15. Sheep and Goats
  16. Equine Animals
  17. Hares, Rabbits, and Mice
  18. Sea-Mammals
  19. Fish, Crustaceans ans Mollusks
  20. Frogs and Toads
  21. Reptiles
  22. Birds
  23. The Animal Paradise

Appendix: (I feel like this could have been a stand alone book)

Roman Veterinary Medicine by R.E. Walker, B. Vet., MRCVS

  • The practitioner
  • The practice in civilian life
  • Some notes on cavalry horses in the Roman army


Hope this brief book review was helpful in furthering your own studies in to Ancient roman history.